How does a mother accept spoken words saying her precious baby, her beautiful, innocent daughter is gone? How?
It’s unfathomable. … It’s unspeakable.
Yet, Karen Harmening spoke. And through the power of her ever-present Savior, she spoke loudly.
Words are powerful. They are life-giving, life-changing, and life-affirming. In fact, words might be the most powerful tools on Earth. Think about it. Even God chose to begin creation with words. Almighty God could have chosen to form the universe in a multitude of ways. Yet, He chose to speak: “‘[L]et there be light:’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3, KJV). Instantly, the world as we know it began with four simple words.
Perhaps that is the true power of words—the fact that something so simple can have such a profound impact, especially if those simple words are spoken through the power of God’s Spirit.
Americans had the chance to hear some of those profound Spirit-filled words last week via many of the mainstream media sources. Those words came from the mouth of a previously unknown and very unlikely source—a grieving mother named Karen.
Karen’s daughter, 17-year-old Sarah, was killed in a tragic bus crash near Atlanta, Georgia, Thursday, June 8. She and a large team from Mount Zion Baptist Church of Madison County, Alabama, were headed out on an extended mission trip to Botswana, Africa. Several members of the mission team were injured; Sarah was the one fatality.
Such loss, such unexpected heartache is unimaginable. And it all began with one phone call, one conversation. One family’s world changed forever with the words no parent ever wants to hear.
At a nationally televised press conference following the accident, Karen and her husband Scott spoke of their daughter’s faith, her love for others, and her desire to share the hope she found through Christ alone. Perhaps those conducting the press conference, the reporters and camera crew, expected tears of agony and loss. Instead, the Harmenings offered the press crew and all their viewers joy, love, peace, and unquenchable hope.
Karen read aloud from Sarah’s journal, written in the moments before her death. Sarah wrote, “I was just sitting here on the bus feeling a little sad. I guess because I was going to be gone for so long and I was uncomfortable.”
If those were Sarah’s last words, they may have been harder for her mother to repeat, but Sarah was not finished writing.
She continued by telling about the comfort she received from opening her Bible, praying, and then reading verses from both of Peter’s epistles. Sarah went on to journal how those scriptures (1 Peter 5 and 2 Peter 1) reassured and encouraged her because each verse seemed to pertain specifically to her. She finished by writing, “[I] was just reminded of why I am here, and that God has called me here and that He has done this for a reason, so I know He’s going to do incredible things.”
Now, those are powerful last words! And yes He is doing incredible things through Sarah’s words. He began by allowing those words to be spoken aloud to a large audience by her loving, grieving mother.
But Sarah’s mother did not simply read aloud her daughter’s last words. Karen spoke from the Word of God, words filled with hope and promise. She offered those words to a lost and dying world, a world searching for a Savior. She uttered words of life in the midst of unexpected, unexplainable, unspeakable death. In fact, to all those listening, she issued an invitation to meet this Jesus whom Sarah served.
The Harmenings could only speak such powerful words because of their trust in the true Word, Jesus Christ. It obviously had to be His Holy Spirit that empowered them during such a difficult situation. He alone sustained them and enabled them to speak so boldly and hopefully of their daughter Sarah’s last words.
So, watching their press conference left me thinking about the power of words. I love words, and I know the power packed in each syllable of a word. As a writer, I constantly search for the perfect words to convey my message precisely and succinctly. Switching one simple word in an essay or article can change the entire emotional impact of the piece. As the Bible says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11, KJV).
Jesus used words “fitly spoken” to teach and train; to convict and set free; to exhort and restrain; to heal and deliver, and ultimately “to seek and save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10, KJV). In fact, He was and still is the Word of life. And to Sarah, He was her everything – the first in her heart and the last words of her life.